Harris: Can seven be heaven for LSU?

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS --  LSU's Jeanne Kenney is carried off the court in the final moments of LSU's 75-71 win over Green Bay on Sunday, March 24, 2013, in the first round of the NCAA women's tournament in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- LSU's Jeanne Kenney is carried off the court in the final moments of LSU's 75-71 win over Green Bay on Sunday, March 24, 2013, in the first round of the NCAA women's tournament in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

With trainers and LSU women’s basketball coach Nikki Caldwell huddled over guard Jeanne Kenney late in Sunday’s victory against Green Bay, logic dictated the Lady Tigers might need to amend their credo.

“Eight Is Enough,” meet “Seven Might Be Suitable.”

Branding aficionados lean toward pitching the ideal. But for coaches, reality trumps rallying cries. If Charles Darwin had a favorite month, March was a likely selection because that’s when the weak are culled from the herd.

Against No. 3 seed Penn State, sixth-seeded LSU again will test its mantra and natural selection while trying to earn a Sweet 16 trip at 8:45 p.m. Tuesday in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center

“We have to be ready to go at all costs,” forward Theresa Plaisance said.

If Kenney is diagnosed with a concussion, the Lady Tigers will see whether the remaining traits are enough to withstand Nittany Lions coach Coquese Washington’s brisk pace. At least Caldwell tried to mask any worry with humor.

“As long as three of them don’t foul out, we’ll be OK,” she said.

So, optimism still abounds on an ever-shrinking roster.

And why not? LSU survived the Serengeti of women’s college basketball, alternately known as the Southeastern Conference.

Kenney’s medical chart resembles one resulting from a game of Operation: left knee sprain against Texas A&M, bruised left shin against Kentucky and a nagging left foot sprain since the season started. Only when it comes to concussions, Kenney’s mettle can’t override a medical consensus.

“We will definitely not take any unnecessary measures to get her here,” Caldwell said. “If she’s out, and they come back and say that’s what it is, then that’s what it is.”

Oddly, LSU flourished with its roster stripped to bare elements. Adaptation, it turns out, required simplicity.

Caldwell’s move to a matchup zone? Well, it allows the defense to extend, switch on screens and pack the lane without further taxing a lineup in which five players see 30-plus minutes a game.

There also are clearly defined jobs. Look at the front court. Plaisance is a stretch forward who can play on the block, face up to the rim and handle the ball. Shanece McKinney can spell her and play out of the pick-and-roll along with ably defending the lane. Freshman Derreyal Youngblood is raw offensively but sturdy on the glass.

For Caldwell, too, there have been inherent benefits to a short bench. Practices are shorter, allaying wear and tear. The guarantee of playing time sharpens her players’ focus. Bluntly put, too, there is no safe haven.

“You can’t keep looking down the bench,” Caldwell said. “You’re going to play. It’s not an option, and they cannot hide.”

Expect little in the way of pity from Penn State.

“With TV timeouts and (regular) timeouts, I think having seven, eight people is plenty,” Washington said. “I don’t think it’s something that hinders you from being successful.”

So says the coach with at least 10 bodies at her disposal. Still, Caldwell isn’t ready to change the marketing ploy.

“Eight is enough,” she said, “for us to come out and compete every day the way we want to play.”